Monday, October 6, 2008

A Simple Recipe?

I arrived home on a chilly Fall evening and announced imperiously to my family: "Dinner is cancelled."

I simply could not belly up to the challenge, drained from a trying day, of pleasing everyone--a veggie son, a daughter who will not touch fish and thrives on "kid food", a husband content to graze throughout the evening on nuts, chocolate, chips, salsa, and late-night ice-cream. (At 6'8'', none of this junk shows on his frame).

No one scoffed, no one raised an eyebrow, no one was put out or surprised. My husband, Michael, turned another page of Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union and took a pull on his beer, our children shuffled downstairs, and set to work sliding bread into the toaster, pouring cereal into bowls, slicing up cheese, and swivelling open a jar of organic extra-crunchy peanut butter. Our Bernese Mountain dog, Montague Booh trotted down and sat outside the glass sunroom door, beside his empty bowl, barking until we did his bidding: Dinner please! Dinner now!

I sat with my kids, caught up with their days, made sure they ate some crudites which I prepared, made certain they drank tall glasses of milk or soy milk, and then I set the kitchen to rights, so they could get started on their homework.

The truth is: I am culinarily challenged. My mother, a busy psychiatrist, did not have much time for cooking and did not pass down any tips or recipes. In fact, I have no memories whatsoever of cooking or baking with her. Yet I long to be more of a cook, to have something yummy and fragrant bubbling on the stove on a darkening autumn afternoon, perhaps some bread or special cake rising in the oven on a snowy winter night.

At Rosh Hashonah, we had a gorgeous meal with friends: potato-leek soup with a rich caramel finish, savoury brisket, homemade challah and apple-pies so moresome, they had everyone going back for thirds.

"This dinner is amazing," I complimented Rachel.

"Oh, I only did the pies," she said. "David made everything."

I turned to David. "I don't know how you do it!"

"It's simple," he said, without irony. "I follow a recipe."

My ah-ha moment?

Back to those pies, the perfect cake....

On a recent Yom Kippur, I hosted break-the-fast for friends who are our surrogate family, as we are "orphans" up here in Montreal. I can handle break-the-fast. Bagels, lox, egg salad. But I tried a special cake I had a friend's recipe for, a simple recipe.

The cake bubbled in the oven, its aroma divine: apple, cinnammon smells, laced with a buttery-creamy fragrance. I opened the oven. The cake was erupting, lava-like, a volcano, and though it bubbled furiously, it refused to rise.

"The Big Oozie," my daughter Rosy dubbed it.

My son Tobias examined my ingredients still spread upon the counter.

"Mom! You forgot to put in flour!"

I'd been imagining into my new novel.

In a jiffy, Tobias, re-made the cake: 1, 2, 3. It emerged an hour later, fragrant, perfect. Tobias, it happens, is a wonderful cook out of--you got it-- desperation, not inspiration.

Yom Kippur is anon, and once again, I am hosting break-the-fast. I will give that sour-cream apple cake another try. After all, it is a simple recipe.

If only becoming a better person, cleansing oneself of sins, writing a jewel of a short story, or creating a powerful novel, were that easy.


Leo said...

Hopefully, you'll remember the flour this time around.

I'm surprised you arrived home only on that evening and said that. For us, it's once a week. Friday's usually. The week is done and with both adults working like mules and the kids either working or going to school from 8 to 4, so are we.

"Dinner is self-serve tonight," we say. And the amazing thing is, the kids take it in stride. No fuss. No muss. Not a single complaint.

Maybe it's because we frequently shell out some money and off they go to get - are you ready? - poutine. Or maybe they just scramble out some leftovers from the fridge. We tend to overcook, and usually, they take away the leftovers for their lunch the following day. But not always.

And David is right. It's all in following the damn recipe. That's what I do and 99% of the time, it works like a charm. I even break the standard rule when inviting guests and usually always try a new recipe. And it usually always works. And everyone is usually grateful just to eat something diffrent.

Speaking of desserts, you gotta try the recipe for chocolate chip cookies on the back of the Chipits bag. Only substitute for all Organic ingredients. Yummy!

I'm all for simplicity. If the recipe looks like it will take days to do, forget it.

However, there is this recipe that I know for Cassoulet where the originator took a whole week to prepare it - searching for just the right ingredients, the right wines to serve with it, the prep time, the exotic way of preparing it (actually confiting the duck, finding a choice piece of mutton, searching for that one butcher with that rare sausage) - by the time it's done, you're salivating for a try.

But not tonight. Tonight, it's a lamb-bean stew that I'll prepare for slow cooking during the day tomorrow. The thing is, I won't even have a chance to taste it. I'll be learning all about Elizabeth Barrett-Browning instead.

Pity that.

Leo said...

And by the way, Ms. Mad Men enthusiast, why the heck are you doing the cooking anyway? Shouldn't M be doing some of the heavy lifting? Shouldn't the kids treat their mother once in a while?

This ain't the sixties, baby. Tell them to get with the program!

Frankie said...

One day, I started a dinner strike. Tired of hearing my children saying "I don't want to eat this!". When I announced my strike, they cheered, happy at the prospect of making their own dinners.

That day, I lost my illusions about how indispensable I was.

After a week, the children asked for dinners to be made for them again, not because they suddently realized they liked my cooking, but because they were tired of cooking.

That day, I lost my ability to stay serious and I started to laugh and laugh.